Business & Society

USU Professors Speak at Cache Valley's 'Families Belong Together' Rally

Photo by Megan Nielsen, "The Utah Stateseman."

The Student Life section of Utah State Today highlights work written by the talented student journalists at Utah State University. Each week, the editor selects a story that has been published in The Utah Statesman for inclusion in Utah State Today.

By Diego Mendiola, Utah Statesman, Monday, July 2, 2018 

A group of nearly 200 demonstrators gathered on the lawn of the Cache County Courthouse Saturday to hear speakers —including Utah State University faculty — who called to keep families together at the border, to increase empathy and to vote in the upcoming elections. The rally is part of a nationwide movement in response to President Trumps’ recent zero-tolerance immigration policy.  

“The administration has promised to sign an executive order; they’re not going to continue with this policy. And that’s great, and we’ll see,” said John Ferguson, a lecturer in the Huntsman School of Business and a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah. “Whatever promise they make, I can make you a promise. At the ACLU, we will not stop fighting until this harmful policy is reversed permanently. We will not give up until no more children are torn away from their parents. Not until every family is reunited.”

His remarks were met with cheers and applause.

Ferguson, after marking recent political and press victories, echoed the words of critics who may point to past administrations’ mistakes.

“‘Well, what about Obama, what about Clinton or Bush, or anyone else?’ And you know what? They’re right,” Ferguson said. “They all had problematic immigration policies, but no one has taken it to this new low.”

While that may be modernly true, the nation’s non-white exclusionary tendencies date back to near its founding. Pew Research Center lays out a timeline: in 1790, the year’s Naturalization Act deemed “that privilege to free whites of ‘good moral character’ who had lived in the U.S. for at least two years.” Since then, there has been a back and forth progress. In 1870 those of African origin were allowed citizenship, yet there was other legislation that was more alienating in nature, like the Asian Exclusion Act of 1875.

People march at a rally for immigrants in Logan, Utah on June 30, 2018. The rally included four guest speakers, open mic and a march down Main Street.

More recently, in 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Services Act passed under Lyndon B. Johnson allowed inclusivity.

According to an article by National Public Radio, the purpose of the legislation was to reunite families of skilled workers whose ingress was limited by their country of origin. Historically, immigration laws largely favored Western Europeans.

The new legislation “leveled the immigration playing field, giving a nearly equal shot to newcomers from every corner of the world,” the article said.

Since the landmark act of 1965, immigration policies have focused on tightening regulations. The exception being the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which is currently taking in renewal applications, and was passed into law during Obama’s administration.

Ferguson later asked the crowd to promise three things: to vote, to stay informed and to make their voices heard on social media and in day-to-day life.

“There are neighbors and coworkers who we need to have conversations with,” he said.

Mehmet Soyer, a visiting sociology assistant professor at USU, reminded the crowd of the immigrant nature of the nation.

Melanie Domenech Rodríguez also spoke to the crowd, saying people are less likely to take action if they “see detained families and children as different from us.”

Domenech Rodríguez, a child psychologist at Utah State, spoke of the deep psychological and social effects traumatic events leave on individuals and populations. She encouraged the audience to increase their capacity for empathy by volunteering as a collaborator and not with a rescue mentality.

“We’re all in this together,” she said, as she was joined by cheers from the crowd.

Lizette Cruz, a community liaison at The Family Place, spoke while holding her six-month-old child in her arms.

Lizette Cruz speaks at a rally for immigrants in Logan, Utah on June 30, 2018. The rally included four guest speakers, open mic and a march down Main Street.

Cruz recounted stories of when her mother moved to the United States in search of work when Cruz was three years old. Her mother left her with family while she was abroad.

“When I was hungry, my grandma didn’t have money, so she would give me water with sugar,” Cruz said. “If I was in that stance, where I wouldn’t have milk for my baby, and only had water and sugar, you bet I would do everything and anything to provide him with a better future.” 

“Today, my job is to strengthen families and protect children. That I will do forever,” Cruz said.

“This isn’t just people trying to sneak across the border into the United States. The particular policy that ignited the outrage was of those seeking asylum, trying to flee violence,” said Kolby Sorenson, an ACLU People Power grassroots activist. “In order to ask for asylum, you have to be on U.S. soil.”

“They come here openly asking for asylum, and the United States decides to respond by criminally prosecuting them, taking their children away with no plan to reunite them,” Sorenson said. “People just need to understand how egregious and unusually cruel that policy is, and I think a lot of  Americans still don’t.”

“Most people agree we need border security,” he said. “But we should do it in a way that treats immigrants and refugees with humanity and kindness. There is no reason you have to choose one or the other.”

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